A wave of forest fires raging through central and southern Chile has so far claimed the lives of 24 people and injured more than 2,000, according to the latest report from the country's National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (Senapred).
The most affected regions are Ñuble, Biobío and La Araucanía, forested areas rich with agricultural activity located in the center of the country. All are over 200 miles south of Santiago de Chile, the country's capital.
3,300 people affected
The Disaster Risk and Management Committee (CONGRID) reported that there are 309 active fire outbreaks. In addition, it reported that the fires have consumed more than 280,000 hectares of land, some 1,600 houses have been destroyed and approximately 3,300 victims have moved to 40 operational shelters.
CONGRID also noted that there are some 5,000 brigadiers and firefighters battling the wildfires.
— Gobierno de Chile (@GobiernodeChile) February 8, 2023
The 30-30-30 formula
Authorities assured that these are the worst fires the country has seen in decades. Minister of the Interior Carolina Tohá cited "an unprecedented heat wave in the south, accompanied by a long drought that has lasted more than 13 years,” as potential causes
Experts also pointed to the 30-30-30 formula (30 degrees Celsius, 30 kilometers per hour of wind and humidity below 30%) as another contributing factor. These conditions cause flames to spread more quickly. In addition to the effects of logging on the original vegetation and subsequent reforestation with eucalyptus trees, which burn quickly, the risk factors have multiplied.
On top of the unfavorable weather conditions, it was reported that ten people were arrested for their alleged involvement in starting some of the fires: "The intentional generation of fires will be criminally prosecuted by the Government. The penalties range from 5 to 20 years.”
The Meteorological Directorate reported that the heat wave will last until next Wednesday and will affect seven of the country's 16 regions.
State of emergency
The government of the Chilean president Gabriel Boric decreed a "State of Constitutional Emergency Catastrophe." This allows, among other things, to deploy armed forces in the affected areas, to deliver aid to those affected more quickly and to mobilize resources: "It allows us to deploy special additional support due to the fire situation we are experiencing," said Minister Tohá.
Razones extraordinarias que afectan la seguridad de las personas como #IncendiosForestales, terremotos, erupciones volcánicas o tsunamis, permiten decretar un Estado de Catástrofe. pic.twitter.com/AHBCi6XREO
— Gobierno de Chile (@GobiernodeChile) February 3, 2023
Boric asked Minister of Agriculture Esteban Valenzuela, Minister of Defense Maya Fernández and Undersecretary of the Interior Manuel Monsalve to aid on-site with the emergency "to expedite concrete measures on the ground for the affected families.”
International aid arrives in the country
Last Saturday, Chile requested international support in the form of aircraft and fire brigades. Argentina, Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Brazil have already sent resources and human assistance.
Spain was one of the first countries to send a contingent of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) of the Spanish Armed Forces. The professionals landed in the South American country last Sunday.
— Gobierno de Chile (@GobiernodeChile) February 6, 2023
Mexico also sent aid. President Boric thanked his counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, "for sending to Chile 30 brigadiers and 120 troops from the Mexican army and air force, experts in firefighting."
Agradezco al querido Presidente de México @lopezobrador_ por el envío a Chile de 30 brigadistas y 120 efectivos del ejército y fuerza aérea mexicana, expertos en el combate de incendios. Cooperación internacional y apoyo latinoamericano presente! pic.twitter.com/Av4I7ZmpU0
— Gabriel Boric Font (@GabrielBoric) February 6, 2023
Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez reported that machinery and brigadiers had been sent to their western neighbor.
La solidaridad latinoamericana es nuestra guía para fortalecernos. Estaremos siempre para acompañarlos y ayudarlos a superar momentos difíciles, como este. Somos una región de pueblos hermanos 🇦🇷🇨🇱 https://t.co/yJzIzOxSho
— Alberto Fernández (@alferdez) February 4, 2023
Colombian President Gustavo Petro assured that his government will send additional help; "We will send a plane to Chile with material and experts in extinguishing forest fires. The climate crisis is burning Chile."
Gracias compañero! La unidad latinoamericana hace pequeña toda distancia. Un abrazo fraterno. https://t.co/uOxDLV8YxG
— Gabriel Boric Font (@GabrielBoric) February 5, 2023
French President Emmanuel Macron also offered his support and solidarity to the Chilean people.
Tragic fires ravage several regions of Chile. All my thoughts are with the families of the victims and the heroes fighting in the face of the flames. The Chilean people can count on France's support in the fight against this scourge.
Merci mon ami! Je sais pouvoir compter sur votre soutien. https://t.co/gALx3hUUS5
— Gabriel Boric Font (@GabrielBoric) February 6, 2023
The United States sent the special firefighting aircraft called Ten Tanker, which has three tanks with a total capacity of 9,500 gallons (36,000 liters) of liquid and a refueling time of 10 minutes. The plane arrived at the Carriel Sur airport in Talcahuano, Biobío region - one of the regions most affected by the flames. President Boric welcomed the U.S. delegation coming with the plane, saying that its arrival "will make the work more efficient".
However, the aircraft suffered a failure last Tuesday and will not be able to operate for at least 48 hours.
Confirman que Ten Tanker sufrió falla y no podrá operar por al menos 48 horas https://t.co/k1WQuaWUGw
— BioBioChile (@biobio) February 8, 2023